Unread Shelf: February 28, 2022

Sooooo manyyyyyyy…

#REVIEW: The Paladin Trilogy, by Daniel M. Ford

I have reviewed a couple of Daniel M. Ford’s books in this space before, and they always have to start with a disclaimer: Dan and I are friends, or at least are whatever parasocial, mutual-followers-on-social-media, never-met-before sort of friends that stand in for most of my adult social relationships nowadays. He’s a Cool Guy, is what I should be saying, and if you stopped right now and followed him on Twitter and didn’t read the rest of the post you’d actually come off pretty well anyway. That said (and the second sentence in the disclaimer always starts with “that said,”) authors are really really good at reading each others’ work and just quietly never saying anything when we don’t like it. I don’t know if I would have bought any of these books if I didn’t know Dan through Twitter; I am absolutely certain I would have liked them just as much once I encountered them.

Anyway, I’ve worked my way through his Paladin Trilogy over the last who-knows-how-long, finishing up with the massive, 800-page doorstop Crusade, which absorbed a good chunk of my February, and while for some reason I didn’t review the first two (although I think I mentioned them here and there,) I’m reviewing the series as a whole now that it’s concluded: this is really good epic fantasy, and most excitingly, it’s epic fantasy of a style that I really don’t think I’ve seen before: it’s about religion. The main character, as you might guess, is a Paladin, the first convert of a new religion, and while the series is mostly Allystaire’s story, it’s also very much the story of how the religion of the followers of the Mother begins to gain traction in the collection of baronies that the story is set in. The book is second-world fantasy and manages to be both low fantasy and high fantasy at the same time; the Mother ends up with five main apostles, four humans and a dwarf, and all of them end up with various powers of one sort or another, and there are some really magically powerful enemies, but the world itself is not heavily magic-imbued. The bad guys would not feel out of place in a Robert Jordan Conan book, if you’re looking for a vague analog to the style.

The apostles are known as the Arm (that’s Allystaire,) the Wit, the Voice, the Will and the Shadow, and all of the characters have their own roles to play in the Mother’s religion. The first book is mostly dedicated to pulling the team together, for lack of a better phrase, the second to establishing the Mother’s religion as a threat to the status quo, and the books end as all fantasy trilogies should, with a big war. It’s delicious work from start to finish, and I’ve praised Dan’s exceptional character work in my other reviews and it’s on full display here. I really liked reading about Allystaire in a way that isn’t terribly common for me(*) and the way he balances his innate sense of justice with his (admittedly bad) temper and his responsibilities to his deity and to the people he’s supposed to protect are fascinating. You don’t see a whole lot of discussion of moral behavior in fantasy, and Allystaire is fascinating in that he’s more or less constantly worried about doing what is right and just but still never comes off as, well, as obnoxious as you think a paladin character could very easily be. Of the other characters, the Shadow, Idgen Marte, and the Wit, a dwarf named Torvul, are the standouts. I particularly wish I could learn more about Torvul. I spent the entire third book worrying about something bad happening to Torvul.

In a lot of ways, these books are what I’ve been looking for this year. I’ve been doing Big Reading Projects for the last several years, and this year I mostly wanted to kind of pull back and take refuge in genre, and this big honkin’ fantasy trilogy with a unique angle on the genre, great worldbuilding, interesting politics and character work and cool magic has been a great way to start off the year. I’ve told my wife to check them out, which is not a sentence you see around here all that often. Definitely definitely check them out, y’all, you won’t regret it.

(*) To vastly oversimplify things, some people read for language, some for character, and some for story. I have majored in Story with a minor in Worldbuilding, so those things are what I look to first, and a book that tells a cool story but maybe has boring or annoying characters will win out for me over a book with intricately developed characters but a boring story.

My eyes are bleeding but that’s fine

I have recorded nine episodes so far, and I’ve done some offscreen screwing around during my– heh– “breaks” from playing, and I’m having a Goddamn blast so far. I spent a good chunk of last night as a spitting, rage mess because my microphone abruptly decided to shit the Goddamn bed on me, and the workaround that I finally came up with so that I could actually get started recording wasn’t nearly of the quality I wanted.

I replaced the mic first thing this morning, and we are rolling now. It’s 6:40, and I’m hoping to get another four or five episodes in at least before I go to bed. Staying up late to keep playing is absolutely on the table. We’ll see what happens. I’d love to be twenty episodes in by the end of the weekend but I have a fair amount of stuff from my stupid actual life that needs to get done tomorrow, including more grading than I really want to think about, so we’ll see how it goes.

I also owe somebody a book review, which will be written tomorrow. Teaser:

Short version: read these.

In which I’ll see y’all later

I think I said this a couple of days ago- I do not remember the last time I was this excited about anything, and I fully expect this game to eat my life for a month. I will probably post a character creation video on the channel at 8:00 and then full coverage starts tomorrow. If you need me, call my wife.


What I know

I can find Ukraine on a map, and I could have found Ukraine on a map prior to all this happening. I know Ukraine is a former Soviet republic. I know it’s “Ukraine” and not “The Ukraine,” although I can’t tell you why everyone seemed to spend so much time thinking it was “The Ukraine” or whether there was some formal name change or this is some sort of Mandela effect nonsense. I know that Kyiv is the capital, although until recently I was under the impression it was generally spelled “Kiev,” and I’m not sure when that change happened either.

I read a book by a pair of Ukrainian authors last year, and liked it quite a bit, but until earlier today I was under the impression that Chernobyl was in Siberia.

I just discovered that the golden dome that seems to be in the background in a lot of shots of Kyiv’s skyline is the Cathedral of St. Sophia, and it looks really damn cool:

It also looks weirdly computer-generated in a lot of the pictures of it online, and I can’t quite figure out what about it is generating that impression.

In addition, the following is true:

I am, in general, Against War.

I am, in its entirety, Against Tyranny.

While I am fully and entirely aware that the US has, to put it mildly, not been remotely the force for good in the world that we pretend to be, I am one hundred percent comfortable with trusting anything Joe Biden has to say against anything Vladimir fucking Putin has to say. Putin is an autocrat and a tyrant and a murderer, and I need you to understand that when I call him a murderer I am saying that he, personally, has murdered people. Joe Biden has blood on his hands too; it is impossible to be the President of the United States without having blood on your hands, but there is no credible moral comparison between him and Putin, period.

Combine the following with the fact that I was in elementary school during the Reagan years, when we were all convinced that global nuclear war could break out at any moment, and fuck an “active shooter” drill, we had actual nuclear bomb drills, and it should not be surprising that I take the side of the Ukrainians in this conflict. I am in a situation where I feel like “the facts” are mostly outside my grasp but the moral fact of the situation does not seem to be; the Russians are invading a sovereign country under what seems to be utterly bullshit premises, and regardless of any other details I feel pretty good about coming out and stating that they shouldn’t do that.

I am also encouraged by reports that there are protests happening in hundreds of cities across Russia.

I am not– and this is where I seem to differ with a lot of people online– going to be arguing with the Biden administration about the details of how they push back against Moscow on this. I had never heard of SWIFT before today and I think probably 90% of the people who are online arguing about whether we should kick Russia off of SWIFT had also never heard of it before today. I support the idea of “sanctions,” but that doesn’t mean that I have any real fucking clue what form they should take. I voted for this dude so that he could either make those decisions himself or hire people who were smart enough to tell him what decisions to make. I’m a motherfucking middle school math teacher in Indiana. This is about as “not my lane” as anything could possibly be. And I have not the slightest idea what the hell we or anyone should do if whatever sanctions package gets put into place doesn’t work, because I really, really, really, really don’t want to go to war with Russia.

The end.